What Our Taxes to Israel are Funding
Over a month after my talks at the Greenwich Library, I find that Israel loyalists are still publishing astonishingly inaccurate tirades about me in local newspapers. While the name-calling is unfortunate, it is excellent that discussion of the profoundly important topic of Israel-Palestine is continuing.
Given that American taxpayers, even during recessions in which thousands of Americans are thrown out of work, have long given Israel far more of our tax money than to any other nation on earth – currently about $7 million per day – it is highly appropriate that we examine the target of our truly inordinate generosity.
In his recent column about me, Rabbi Mitchell Hurvitz strays into three unusual areas of terrain. While, I was extremely surprised to see him venture there, I will be happy to follow him.
First, he starts out by quoting the First Amendment of the US Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."
It is strange that an Israel advocate should draw attention to this bedrock principle of democracy, since Israel violates it so systematically. Israel is a self-defined "Jewish state" in which non-Jews (i.e. the Christians and Muslims who made up a majority of the population in this land until recently, and still make up almost twenty percent of the population) are second-class citizens, at best.
While US media almost never report this, the fact is that their religions are routinely disparaged, their economic situation is far inferior, their children are taught in school that Jewish culture is superior to all others, and periodically there are outright attacks on their institutions and texts -- in 1980 hundreds of copies of the New Testament were publicly and ceremonially burnt in Jerusalem under the auspices of a Jewish organization subsidized by the Israeli Ministry of Religions. Today, thousands of Muslims and Christians under Israeli occupation are prevented from worshiping in their holiest churches and mosques.
I am continually astounded at the stance of people such as Rabbi Hurvitz, who support Israeli discriminatory practices. It seems to me that either one is against discrimination based on race, religion, and ethnicity, or one is not. It seems a bit hypocritical – or at least to reveal that one's behavior is governed by interest rather than principle – to be for such practices when one benefits, and against them when one does not.
It seems that when Rabbi Hurvitz is a member of a minority (Jewish Americans constitute approximately two percent of the American population) he applauds a secular state in which the majority religion relinquishes its traditional symbols and culture in the name of freedom of religion. When he is a member of the majority, on the other hand, he advocates a state where a religious symbol is on the very flag itself, and where individuals must carry ID cards denoting their religious background.
Second, it is odd that Rabbi Hurvitz brings up the Constitution, given that Israel itself has deliberately chosen not to adopt one – a far cry from the US system, in which fundamental principles and rights were codified at the very beginning of our national existence and can only be modified through a long and tedious process of public involvement.
Third, Rabbi Hurvitz provides a mini-sermon drawn from Halacha (Jewish law) and the Talmud. Again, this is a bit odd. Truthfully, the Talmud and Jewish law are such mixed bags that I'm surprised he handed them to us to peer into.
While I rarely speak or write on this subject matter, there is no doubt that it is significant and should be explored. There are two extremely valuable books on the topic by authors less timid than I, both Jewish, one Israeli: "Jewish History, Jewish Religion" (posted on ifamericansknew.org in full) by Dr. Israel Shahak, a holocaust survivor and, until his death in 2001, a highly regarded Israeli professor of chemistry; and "Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel," co-authored by Dr. Shahak and Dr. Norton Mezvinsky, a professor of history who in 2002 was named by the Connecticut State University Board of Trustees an official "Connecticut State University Professor...a signal honor, reserved for faculty members who fulfill the highest ideals of outstanding teaching, scholarly achievement and public service."
In his first book, Shahak explains that he took on this topic when he realized that "...neither Zionism, including its seemingly secular part, nor Israeli politics..., nor particularly the policies of the Jewish supporters of Israel in the diaspora, could be understood unless the deeper influence of [Talmudic laws], and the worldview which they both create and express is taken into account... Without a discussion of the prevalent Jewish attitudes to non-Jews," Shahak emphasizes," even the concept of Israel as 'a Jewish state', as Israel formally defines itself, cannot be understood."
Shahak and Mezvinsky provide a number of translations from the Talmud and other writings that they note are omitted from books on Judaism published in English; for example, from a fundamental book of Hassidism: "All non-Jews are totally satanic creatures 'in whom there is absolutely nothing good.' Even a non-Jewish embryo is qualitatively different from a Jewish one. The very existence of a non-Jew is 'non-essential', whereas all creation was created solely for the sake of the Jews." There are many such passages.
What makes such texts particularly significant, Shahak explains, is that "[i]n Israel these ideas are widely disseminated among the public at large, in the schools and in the army." In a booklet published by the Israeli Army for its soldiers, Shahak reports, the Chief Chaplain wrote:
"When our forces come across civilians during a war or in hot pursuit or in a raid, so long as there is no certainty that those civilians are incapable of harming our forces, then according to the Halakhah they may and even should be killed ... In war, when our forces storm the enemy, they are allowed and even enjoined by the Halakhah to kill even good civilians, that is, civilians who are ostensibly good."
One can only imagine what this kind of teaching means for Palestinians in Israel itself, and, still worse, for those in the West Bank who live next to settlements populated by heavily armed adherents of such a ruthless and supremacist faith – and who regularly attack them with impunity, periodically beating, torturing, and killing them. A sentence several years ago, on the rare occasion when a perpetrator was even charged with a crime, was six months community service.
While the above citations do not in anyway represent the whole of Judaism, the reality is that certain religious texts taught in Israel contain a distressing number of profoundly offensive teachings. I have no doubt that the vast majority of Jewish Americans have long since repudiated these, including Rabbi Hurvitz. Still, just as Christian and Muslim leaders have publicly condemned and disowned spurious dogmas and practices, I suspect it would be valuable for Rabbi Hurvitz and other Jewish leaders to do the same. Such shared honesty and humility by all our religious leaders, I believe, helps us move forward as a stronger, more moral, and more unified society.
Most important, while most Israelis also do not hold the beliefs touched upon above, many do – and this group holds disproportionate power in the Israeli regime. If Americans are going to continue showering Israel with millions of dollars per day, I think we are obligated to investigate to what degree our money is being used to further the kind of supremacist, racist violence that most of us oppose.
A first step is to read what Shahak and Mezvinsky have to tell us. The next step, I suspect, is to turn off the tap.
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IF AMERICANS KNEW